Monthly Archives: April 2010

 

Apr

30

2010

Trevin Wax|3:00 am CT

Trevin's Seven

Seven links for your weekend reading:

1. The need for Gospel movements, not just Gospel churches

2. I’m looking forward to this conference - Baptists and the Cross – Contemporary and Historical Perspectivesand think you should consider it too!

3. For shy worshippers, church can be overwhelming…

4. From Mega-city to Meta-city: The Shape of the Future

5. Google Earth has come to Google Maps. The 3-d imagery is stunning.

6. Heroes versus Celebrities

7. Tullian Tchividjian: Renew Where You Are

 
 

Apr

29

2010

Trevin Wax|3:28 am CT

Calvinism Made Me Feel Controversial…

Take a look at this excerpt from Matthew Paul Turner’s memoir, Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost. Turner relates his journey from a fundamentalist Baptist background to (according to his FaceBook page) Christian universalism. For a while, he claimed to be a Calvinist:

Most people thought I was a fully-fledged Calvinist when I began carrying around a book of Puritan prayers and sayings.

But I wasn’t a full-on Calvinist. At the most, I believed three and a half of the five points to be true. The only time I became a five-point Calvinist was when I went home to Chestertown and my father and I felt like arguing about God’s sovereignty. Those arguments brought out the worst in both of us. Dad turned into the stubborn legalist who had no patience for ideas that differed from his, and I turned into the punk know-it-all son with a religious ax to grind.

I liked being Calvinist because it made me feel controversial and edgy to believe something different than what my parents believed. On those trips home, I felt like I was experiencing my own little Protestant Reformation, hammering various disagreements I had with my past into my parents’ faces.

I think that’s why people like Josiah and me sometimes turned into Calvinists. We could be passive-aggressive toward our parents and our past lives without being considered unchristian. Reformed doctrine offered a different way to think about God. And sometimes different, even when it really isn’t that different, is all we need to make us feel alive, creative, and in control of our own destiny.

Turner is on to something here. There is a tendency in us younger evangelicals to desire “edginess.” It’s not always a matter of Calvinism. Sometimes it comes out in our worship style, our innovative church growth practices, or our dismissal of the Christian Right and embrace of social justice and environmentalism.

But a renewal of evangelicalism will not take place if our desire is to be edgy and controversial for controversy’s sake. Believers on fire for God will indeed be “radical,” “edgy,” “subversive” (I like that last word especially!), but lasting change will elude us if our desire for edginess and subversive living becomes an end in itself.

We are most different from the world when we are seeking God with all our hearts. Seeking his kingdom and righteousness is what sets us apart from the world.

Let’s avoid the temptation to adopt certain “edgy” beliefs and practices as a way to set ourselves apart from other Christians. Instead, let’s re-focus on living for God’s glory, which will set us apart from the world in the way that truly makes a difference.

 
 

Apr

29

2010

Trevin Wax|2:10 am CT

Worth a Look 4.29.10

Stephen Prothero (in the Boston Globe) believes it’s misleading – and dangerous - to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom:

But this lumping of the world’s religions into one megareligion is not just false and condescending, it is also a threat. How can we make sense of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir if we pretend that Hinduism and Islam are one and the same? Or of the impasse in the Middle East, if we pretend that there are no fundamental disagreements between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

Trusting a promise:

The hope of the world resides in a dying man beaten beyond recognition and nailed to a Roman cross centuries ago. By His death, resurrection and ascension, the curse has been reversed, but not fully realized at present. Biblical hope by faith is the present possession of those who are called not to see Jesus with their eyes, but to hear and believe the Gospel. Through the efficacy of a divinely enabled capacity to hear and heed the biblical Gospel, hope is grounded in the historical reality of Jesus as He now stands in victory over death, Hell and the grave.

These pictures from the Iceland volcano are simply spectacular.

James Grant interviews Kevin DeYoung about his new book, which explains the Heidelberg Catechism:

1) It’s an intuitive way to learn about the faith. There’s almost a conversational element to reading through a catechism.
2) When we use old confessions and catechisms were help teach our people that their faith is an old faith, shared by millions over many centuries. We also help them realize that other Christians have asked the same questions.
3) Catechisms are ready made documents for Sunday school, new members classes, or even the occasional sermon.
4) Catechisms guard us against faddishness and chronological snobbery.

 
 

Apr

28

2010

Trevin Wax|3:07 am CT

Preaching with Bold Assurance: An Interview with Hershael York

One of my favorite classes at Southern Seminary was “The Ministry of Proclamation” (i.e. Preaching 101) with Dr. Hershael York, author of Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition. Dr. York’s counsel has been of great benefit to me in preaching and teaching. I’m grateful for his emphasis on biblical exposition, application, and delivery. Today, I’m thankful that he has agreed to answer a few questions about preaching.

Trevin Wax: Your book divides sermon preparation into three parts: the text, the sermon, and the delivery. In your opinion, which part is the most neglected in preaching today?

Hershael York: I am confident that each part is neglected by different segments of evangelicals. Preachers tend to react against the abuses and errors of the climate in which they were nurtured.

As a result, preachers who grew up in churches in which the pastor was all flash and little substance tend to shy away from any emphasis on delivery, believing it to be man-centered, and focus on the text. On the other extreme, preachers who grew up in a lifeless orthodoxy may lean too far the other direction and substitute a great delivery and a few spiritual insights for rich biblical revelation. Many Millennials react against the revivalist sermon structure and rhetorical devices that seem trite and settle for a rambling narrative with little discernible structure at all.

So I would have to say that of text, sermon, and delivery, the most neglected today is the one that the preacher has seen overemphasized. But preachers need to master all three concepts. The preacher needs to discover biblical truth, organize it in a culturally relevant way, and deliver it in an engaging manner that reaches the mind of his listeners through their hearts.

Trevin Wax: How much time should a pastor spend on his sermon per week?

Hershael York: Every sermon I preach has taken me my whole life to preach it. Every sermon is the culmination of an invested life. I couldn’t possibly quantify how much time actually goes into a sermon, because I’m drawing from things I learned as a child, a student, a husband, a father, a seminarian, a pastor, a professor, and everything else I’ve done in life.

Sermon preparation is like making wine. The grapes may be newly crushed but they come from vines that are old. That’s why smart students and pastors invest their time in skills and strategies that will pay off many times over.

I don’t have to consult a lot of Greek commentaries because I took four years of undergraduate Greek and then did 30 hours of graduate Greek before I ever went to seminary. Diagramming epistolary passages doesn’t take very long because I’ve already diagrammed most epistles and work to stay intimately acquainted with the text. I invested in the Logos scholars edition so I can have those reference works at hand wherever I go. I don’t buy books that I’ll only use once, but rather invest in the kind of reference works that I will refer to repeatedly. All those things shorten the weekly time I will spend on an individual sermon because I’ve already spent it.

But having said that, I also believe that it takes a significant investment of time to think through a passage, especially to think how it applies to the people I pastor and then to figure out the best way to say it so it grabs them by the lapels and shakes them a bit.

Finding illustrations requires a great deal of time, too, because that never gets easier. In fact, it gets harder to be fresh, to find something new. How many different illustrations of faith can one find, after all? And I read and reject 100 possible illustrations to find that one window of light that illumines the subject at hand like I want it to.

So I can’t really give you a specific time allotment for my sermons as it varies, usually due to whether I’m preaching a NT text with which I have great familiarity or an OT text (like Isaiah) for which I feel much less adequate and out of my expertise. My goal is the same, however. By the time I stand in the pulpit to preach, I want to know that text so intimately and thoroughly that I am saturated with it. If I don’t have that, then I haven’t spent enough time with it.

Trevin Wax: Is it possible to spend too much time on a sermon?

Hershael York: One can spend too much time on sermon preparation in the sense that one neglects other appropriate areas of life and ministry. A sermon will never be perfect, but a text can be dealt with adequately if not exhaustively.

Trevin Wax: You advocate making the main points of the sermon applicational. What’s the difference between this style of preaching and other styles? And why is this important?

Hershael York: I heard an excellent sermon today by Mark Dever, “Children” from Mark 10:13-16. The three points of his sermon were all imperative statements that were the result of asking the question, “What should we do if we understand the truth in this text?” That’s what applicational points look like.

Simply preaching knowledge-based sermons that don’t advocate action is suggesting that biblical truth has no practical value. Every doctrine leads us to a behavior, even if that behavior is trust or rest.

Paul clearly reveals his hermenuetic of OT interpretation in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He recounts the story of the exodus, pointing out that the majority of the Israelites died in the wilderness because of unbelief in spite of high spiritual privileges afforded them by the Lord. Then he admonishes us not to do what they did, and he enumerates those ethical deductions.

I frankly cannot understand the sentiment that I often hear from some homileticians who seem phobic that we should tell our people what to do or avoid based on an OT passage. They fear that we will detract from God’s grace; but of course it’s God’s grace that gave us the OT text and the ability to either emulate or avoid the behaviors described in it.

I do not want to preach a sermon that even the devil can agree with. James warned us of precisely that kind of faith. If we preach a sermon that only states truth but does not exhort to action, then all we have done is raise the faith of our listeners to the level of the demons–who even tremble at the truth, but do not act on it.

Trevin Wax: What are some common pitfalls in the delivery of a sermon that can distract from the truth of the sermon’s content?

Hershael York: One of my axioms is what I call the paradox of preaching: the better you are, the less they notice you. If the preacher is nervous, stammering, repetitive, jittery, wooden, frenetic, frozen, or any other distractive adjective one might imagine, the audience will hardly hear what he is saying, regardless of how true or helpful it may be.

The most common mistake I see among conservative and especially reformed preachers is the belief that if we just get the truth out there, the Holy Spirit will use it, in spite of our poor delivery.

The Millennials have a great challenge because they are far more accustomed to communicating via texts, emails, blogs, and the written word than they are orally, but preaching is oral, and that is a very different means of communicating truth than through words on a page. The biggest mistake I see is when preachers preach like writers, concentrating more on the specific words that they want to say–basically reading the sermon–than on communicating with a real audience.

Trevin Wax: Where do you find good illustrations for sermons?

Hershael York: I try to look where no one else is looking. I look at my own life and experiences. I read a lot, and I seldom use common illustration sources.

In recent years Malcolm Gladwell’s books and the two Freakonomics volumes have been worth their weight in gold to me. I listen to NPR’s This American Life. I find books like Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, about a Wycliff translator who became an atheist on the mission field and find a treasure of ways to apply that.

Of course the Bible itself is a great way to illustrate and teach biblical content to a congregation at the same time, although I obviously do not subscribe to the belief that we should avoid extra-biblical sources for illustrations. Good illustrations won’t make a bad sermon a good one, but they do make a good sermon a great one.

 
 

Apr

28

2010

Trevin Wax|2:27 am CT

Worth a Look 4.28.10

N.T. Wright is returning to the academy and retiring from his position as Bishop of Durham. In my first interview with Bishop Tom (Nov. ’07), he reflected on the pull between the academy and the church:

Trevin Wax: Why is it that you have never pursued exclusively an academic post? Why have you chosen to remain so connected to the local church?

N.T. Wright: It’s a good question. When I was at seminary in my early twenties, one of my teachers said to me, “You’re going to have to decide. Either you’re going to be an academic or you’re going to be a pastor. You can’t be both.” I remember thinking, Rats! I want to be both! Why are you telling me I can’t do these two things? And so I have kind of oscillated to and always wanted to do both.

For me, actually, being a bishop in a bishopric where there’s an academic tradition (going back to people like Lightfoot and Westcott and so on) gives me this fascinating, challenging, but open invitation to say, “We want you to be a scholar. We want you to go on doing this. But do it as a bishop!” And looking back to the earlier centuries of the church, most of the great teachers were also bishops and vice versa. It’s only fairly recently that the church has had this great divide.

Of course, that means that there’s lots of stuff that I can’t do. I don’t do much book-reviewing, for instance, which ordinary scholars do quite a bit. I’ve just had to say to myself, I haven’t got time to do that. And I miss that. I should be doing that, but I’m not. So, it’s a choice.

Ed Stetzer reveals new data on the Millennials from LifeWay Research:

Two-thirds of American “Millennials” – those born between 1980 and 1991 – call themselves Christian, but far fewer pray or read the Bible daily, attend weekly worship services, or hold to historical positions on the Bible and its teachings.

Ted Bolsinger on becoming a good disappointing leader:

I want to begin to lay out some necessary skills for becoming a good disappointing leader.  And the word “good” here means both a sense of competence as well as character.  In other words, if I am going to be a good leader, I need to be committed to “skillfully” disappointing people as well as doing so for genuinely good reasons.

This video may explain why certain schools don’t want people praying at Graduation.

 
 

Apr

27

2010

Trevin Wax|3:30 am CT

Ted Traylor for SBC President

According to the Florida Baptist Witness, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, will be nominated president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the June 15-16 annual meeting in Orlando.

I’ve known Bro. Ted since 2002. I was a first year theology student at Emanuel University in Oradea, Romania. Bro. Ted visited the campus, and my group benefited from several classes with him.

I remember thinking then, What kind of pastor is this who, even though he has a large church to tend to in the States, would come all the way to Romania to pour himself into young Romanian seminary students? His visit in 2002 wasn’t his last. Every year after that, Bro. Ted returned. In 2005, he spoke at the my class’ graduation.

That’s the kind of man Ted Traylor is. He is passionate about the next generation. He loves the church. And he has the heart of a missionary.

Johnny Hunt’s leadership as president of the SBC has been rejuvenating for many in the Convention. I have never seen so many young people fired up about what the Lord may be doing in our midst. I believe the man that follows Hunt needs to have a heart for missions, a heart for the younger generation, and a heart for unity for the sake of the gospel.

As long as the Lord has given me the privilege to know him, I have seen these qualities in Ted Traylor’s life and ministry. People do not travel all the way to Romania to pour their lives into young Romanian seminary students unless they have a passion for global missions and for a passion for the next generation.

I also believe that Bro. Ted would continue in the footsteps of Hunt who has succeeded in bringing together people whose theological and methodological differences would normally get in the way of Great Commission focus. I believe he will be a uniter who will lead Southern Baptists to take the high road with regard to secondary issues and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Anticipating the future, Traylor said his goal is “to serve and lead the Convention I love into a revival of the Great Commission in the days ahead.”

May it be so! I’m proud to support Ted Traylor for president of the SBC.

 
 

Apr

27

2010

Trevin Wax|2:39 am CT

Worth a Look 4.27.10

The greatest theological lesson in seminary:

I believe all the lessons, both inside and outside the classroom pale in comparison, to the greatest lesson to be learned -  humility.  All other learning is fruitless without this.  I am not talking about a contrived form of servanthood, but the reality of who we really are.  All the seminary education should reinforce the conclusion that only by God’s grace and gifting, are we able to participate in the learning program.  Only because he has made provisions.  And only because he has opened blinded eyes to embrace the beauty of his truth.  There by the grace of God go we.

Ten reasons to under-program your church:

We are inundated constantly with opportunities for activity from other churches (which we don’t want to turn down lest we appear uncooperative and standoffish), advertised “movements” local and national (which are good at getting people excited), and “good ideas” from our own community (which we are reluctant to deny lest we break someone’s heart). But what all this so often amounts to is a church that is merely busy, and busy does not always equal diligent or successful. Here, then, are 10 reasons to under-program a church…

Here are some details of Bush 43′s autobiography, soon to be released:

The memoir will “bring readers inside the Texas Governor’s Mansion on the night of the hotly contested 2000 election; aboard Air Force One on 9/11 in the gripping hours after America’s most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; inside the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq; and behind the Oval Office desk for his historic and controversial decisions on the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues that have shaped the first decade of the 21st century.

Brandon Smith interviews me about Holy Subversion and how a blog can be an extension of one’s ministry.

 
 

Apr

26

2010

Trevin Wax|3:00 am CT

Jennifer Knapp & Larry King: Why We Always Lose this Debate

After viewing Friday night’s Larry King Live with Jennifer Knapp, pastor Bob Botsford, and Ted Haggard, I was struck with the question:

Why is it that whenever a proponent of Christianity’s historical view of sexuality goes head to head with an advocate for gay rights, the traditional Christian almost always loses the argument?

Read the transcript from Friday’s roundtable discussion here. Watch as the traditionalist pastor seeks to be loving and gentle, and yet still gets pelted with the pejorative term “judgmental.” Why is this so?

I’m convinced that we continue to lose the argument about homosexuality and Christianity because the traditionalist almost always makes his case within a conversation that has been framed by the opposing viewpoint. The Christian doesn’t lose the argument at the micro-level. The argument is lost from the beginning because of how the discussion is framed.

I only know Jennifer Knapp through her music. (Kansas is one of the best albums in Christian music, as far as I’m concerned.) I do not want the rest of this post (or the comments) to focus on her particular story. Instead, I want to analyze the Larry King appearance as a launching pad from which we can think clearly about how we might re-frame this discussion in ways that benefit the traditionalist position.

Here are four ways to get started:

1. We need to shift emphasis from the truth that “everyone is a sinner” to the necessity of repentance.

“We’re all sinners” comes up again and again in discussions like this. In her Larry King interview, Knapp realized the power of having the pastor admit that he too is a sinner. Once she received this admission, she had the upper hand in asking, “Then why are you judging me instead of me judging you?”

Whenever the discussion centers on “homosexuality is a sin… but we’re all sinners,” the traditionalist inevitably comes across looking like he is singling out homosexuality as a worse sin than all the rest. His protests to the contrary always ring hollow.

But this is the wrong way to frame this debate. We are not saying that some of us are worse sinners than others or that homosexuality is a worse sin than pride, stealing, etc. We are not categorized before God as ” better sinners” or “worse sinners.” Instead, we are either unrepentant or repentant. True Christianity hinges on repentance. The pastor on Larry King Live eventually made this point later on in the broadcast, but the rhetorical damage had already been done.

If we are to reframe this discussion along biblical lines, then we must emphasize the necessity of repentance for the Christian faith. The point is not that the pastor and the Knapp are both sinners. It’s that the pastor agrees with God about his sin, while Knapp remains in her sin without repentance. That is why he is questioning her Christianity, for Christian teaching makes clear the necessity of repentance as the entryway into the Christian family.

Ultimately, the debate is not about homosexuality versus other sins. It’s about whether or not repentance is integral to the Christian life.

2. We must not allow ourselves to be defined by our sexual attractions.

There is a difference between homosexual attraction and homosexual behavior. Whenever this discussion takes place in public, the homosexual advocate inevitably merges these two concepts together and then fashions an identity based upon this attraction. The traditionalist is then considered judgmental for telling the homosexual that she should not be true to herself.

But the assumption that we are defined by our sexual attractions is a modern one and should be questioned. If I lust after a woman other than my wife, and yet choose not to act on that sexual urge, am I not being true to myself? Is it not better to be true to someone else rather than true to one’s desires on certain occasions? Could it be that the suppression of an illicit sexual attraction can also be considered true to oneself?

This is where the whole idea of Christian virtue needs to be revisited. Our goal is not authenticity. It is to be true to the self that is redeemed, transformed by the gospel and the power of the Spirit, under the authority of God’s Word.

That is why we must make distinctions between sexual urges and sexual behavior. One might not choose one’s temptation (the “I was born this way” argument is true of all sinners, after all), but we do choose our behavior. We are not animals, led helplessly by instinct.

Right now, the gay rights advocates are claiming that their opponents have a low view of humanity. Actually, it’s the traditionalist who has the high view of humanity, understanding that we are more than our sexual urges and we have an inherent worth and value that leads us to do more than simply act on whatever instincts we feel.

3. We must expose the arrogance and judgmentalism of those who would so flippantly dismiss the witness of Christians for two thousand years.

No matter how gentle and humble the traditionalist may be, the notion of being “judgmental” will continue to be thrown at him by those who see homosexuality as a legitimate behavior for a Christian. I thought the pastor did well in his stated affection for Jennifer and his insistence that ultimately God is Judge.

But why is it that the debate always takes place with the homosexual as the one “being judged”? Knapp positions herself as the martyr, facing condemnation for her beliefs, though it is she who advocates views that directly contradict the testimony and witness of Christians for the past two thousand years.

Despite the veneer of humility (she admits her lack of knowledge in Greek and Hebrew), Knapp points to recent scholarship that says we have misunderstood the Scriptures that appear to deal with homosexual behavior. This point of view is not humble at all. Knapp has flippantly dismissed the consensus of two thousand years of Christian scholarship and witness, not to mention the vast majority of Christians outside the West who continue to see homosexual behavior as sinful.

Unfortunately, the arrogance and imperialism of this view is never exposed or questioned in these discussions. For once, I’d like to see someone gently point out the implicit judgmentalism of the “homosexual behavior is legitimate” view.

4. We need soft hearts toward Christians struggling with same-sex attraction.

Jennifer Knapp’s point of view appears to be liberating and compassionate. It’s actually condemning and dismissive. How so?

Consider the people in our churches who are struggling with same-sex attraction and temptation. Consider these believers who are walking alongside other Christians, choosing daily to remain celibate, to crucify these desires as a part of their painful sanctification. Knapp dismisses the legitimacy of struggling with such attractions by saying that one should just give up the fight, for homosexual behavior is not even a sin. This kind of hard-heartedness toward fellow pilgrims is not coming from the traditionalist pastor, but from Knapp, who considers herself to be liberated from that struggle.

In closing, it is good for us to remember those who are struggling in our churches. For too long now, Christians have acted as if this struggle is non-existent or we have questioned the sincerity and salvation of those who wrestle with this specific temptation. We ought to repent of our rush to judgment, our cruel jokes about this sin, and our mockery of those who struggle in this area.

Even though we continue to hold to the increasingly unpopular view that homosexual behavior is sinful, we recognize that many Christians are involved in the struggle – whether silently or openly – and we should commit to prayerful pilgrimage with them.

All of us are sinners. True Christians are repentant sinners. And God’s grace is mighty to save us and change us – every one of us and every part of us.

 
 

Apr

26

2010

Trevin Wax|2:52 am CT

Worth a Look 4.26.10

Andy Crouch’s review of James Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World:

I spent some of my formative years among mainline Protestants for whom “faithful presence” was the very watchword, but in practice that meant nearly complete cultural accommodation. This is perhaps the greatest practical obstacle to enacting Hunter’s vision. Creating a strong alternative community to counter the dominant culture, while still boldly commissioning that community’s members for presence even in places of great cultural power, has proven quite the sticky wicket for two millennia now.

Miley Cyrus says the internet wastes your life:

“I just think it’s kind of lame… I feel like I hang out with my friends and they’re so busy taking pictures of what they’re doing and putting them on Facebook that they’re not really enjoying what they’re doing. You’re going to look back and have a million pictures, but you’re not going to be in any of them. Because you’re not having fun, you’re too busy clicking away. So I think, just enjoy the moment you’re in, and stop telling people about it. Just enjoy it.”

Ted Traylor is the third candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Here is the news release. (I will be writing about this tomorrow.)

Traylor told the Witness he agreed to be nominated “in response to the Lord’s prompting and the encouragement of friends across the SBC.” Anticipating the future, Traylor said his goal is “to serve and lead the Convention I love into a revival of the Great Commission in the days ahead.”

Here is William Evans’ take on last week’s Wheaton Conference about the theology of N.T. Wright:

I also came away sensing that the Wheaton invitation was not a misstep and that Wright is a man of authentic evangelical (small “e”) piety even if, in my judgment, he is not “right” on everything–in short, he really does love the Lord and genuinely strives to be biblical. But there are also, in my opinion, at least three significant dangers lurking in his theology…

Speaking of the Wheaton Conference, here’s the view of someone present at Wright’s conference as well as Together for the Gospel:

But “all one” is easier said than done. And at the two conferences I attended, the contradictions and complexities of what it means to be one body and one family in Christ were made manifest.

 
 

Apr

25

2010

Trevin Wax|3:03 am CT

Lord of All Life and Power

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:

Grant that we,
being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honor, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen.